At least Tennessee has been here before.

The Vols basketball team, losers of three of their last four, will go on the road to face Mississippi State Wednesday night for an 8 p.m. tip with pressure of a fleeting NCAA Tournament bid mounting.

Just like in his first two years, head coach Cuonzo Martin and the Vols (16-11, 7-7 SEC) will head down the home stretch of the season needing their best days to be ahead in order to secure a spot in the Big Dance.

"We've done the same thing for two years," UT guard Josh Richardson said, "and the last two years, we haven't really played up to our potential at the end. But (this season) we can make the most of it."

The Vols have needed late-season win streaks to formulate a decent postseason resume in those previous two seasons. This year, however, they have failed to win more than two straight in SEC play.

With an experience-laden roster who has been in a very similar position at this time of year, Richardson said the Vols aren't sweating it this time around.

"We've just been there the last two years, so it's nothing new now," Richardson said. "We just have to keep playing hard and we hope it will all come together."

As the Vols stand at a crossroads with four games left, failing to win out could spell doom for Martin's squad. That's especially so against the Bulldogs (13-14, 3-11), who rank a lowly 212th in RPI.

Martin has come off impressed by Mississippi State's play despite their unfavorable record and a short rotation.

"I think Rick (Ray) is doing a great job with his guys," Martin said, "probably limiting his numbers. I think they might play seven, sometimes eight guys, but they compete always in games. We have to be locked in, ready to go."

Richardson and his fellow teammates have been breaking down tape on the Bulldogs, and agreed it would be a dogfight just like most other conference matchups.

"They have a lot of quick guards, and they are a really scrappy team," Richardson said. "They play really hard every night.

"It's not going to be an easy game. It's going to be a tough game — just like every other one."

Sword-of a big deal

Mississippi State started its SEC slate off 3-2 but has since lost 11 straight.

However, that hasn't been without a steady contribution from sophomore guard Craig Sword.

The Bulldogs' leading scorer averages 13.5 points per game, including 33 points last Wednesday in a loss to LSU.

The Vols' defensive stopper, who is likely to matchup against Sword for much of Wednesday's game, has taken notice.

"Craig Sword, (he's) probably one of the best sophomores in the SEC," Richardson said. "He does so much more than score the ball. He defends, rebounds and passes, so he's a really important piece to their team."

Vols downplay negative buzz

This season hasn't exactly gone as planned for the Vols, and it has created a firestorm of talk and speculation from fans about a potential coaching change.

An online petition promoting the firing of Martin and re-hiring of former UT coach Bruce Pearl has quickly gained steam, amassing more than 24,000 signatures as of Tuesday night.

UT senior guard Jordan McRae is among the Vols who find it as an excuse to distance themselves from social media.

"It's best for all of us to stay off Twitter, Instagram, things like that," McRae said. "(We) just try to stay away from all that stuff."

Richardson also downplayed the effect of the rumors and outside chatter on the program.

"We don't really pay it any mind," Richardson said, "we just worry about our next game. We are just worried about what is in our gym and not what's going on out in the media or in the public or anything."

Richardson couldn't speak for his teammates, saying it's a topic that has never before been talked about between the players — yet another indication that it isn't weighing large on the Vols' minds.

"I mean, you just have to know where your head is at," Richardson said. "I don't know about the other guys, we've never talked about it or anything, but I know for me it's easy to not pay attention to it.

"(We've) just (got to) know what's important."